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Irishman Shane Whooley

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2017    



TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF.

I'm a 27-year-old sports scientist from Blarney, Cork in the south of Ireland who set off on a bicycle from my hometown on 28 May this year to ride all the way down to Australia, a place I love and where I've lived three times before.

I recently arrived in Al Ain, from where the plan was to fly to India, and then continue biking down through Asia before flying out to Australia from Indonesia.

But 9,000km later, I've decided to end my self-funded trip here for now. If I continue it would be on a severely restricted budget, and I would arrive to Australia with nothing.

One of my best friends from Ireland, who is living and working in the city, offered to put me up for a little while, so I took the opportunity to have a bit of a holiday and relax after such a long time in the saddle.

AMAZING – WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THIS TRIP?

It was a very sudden decision; I read two books on a four-year-long cycling trip around the world by Englishman Alistair Humphreys, at a time where I'd been looking for a change, an adventure.

Then, within a couple of months of fnishing the book, I bought my bike – a Panorama Ridgeback which I named Saoirse, an Irish name meaning ‘Freedom’ – and departed.

WOULD YOU SAY YOU'RE AN AVID CYCLIST?

I'm not a cyclist. At all. I bought Saoirse a month before setting off, and the most I ever rode on it was 40km, without added baggage and gear.

To be honest, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to take on this challenge but it's amazing what your body is capable of, and how adaptable it is considering I covered around 100km a day in my trip.

WHAT WERE YOU HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH?

This trip was about challenging myself, pushing the boundaries of what I thought I could do, seeing some of the world, and meeting some of its people.

A secondary reason for this trip was to raise funds for the Irish Motor Neuron Disease Association (IMNDA). My uncle, who passed away a year before I set off on this adventure, suffered from this disorder. I saw its effect on him, and it was a sad sight. He was a great man – someone I looked up to, and a person who was always there when I needed him, which is why raising funds for ongoing research into this disease is a bonus to my trip.

HOW DID YOU PLAN FOR THIS JOURNEY?

I had a rough plan at the beginning with a list of the countries and cities I wanted to visit, but other than that I planned a day or two ahead of each leg because you must constantly change, adjust, and adapt.

Locals will always offer their advice about the best roads, the best sites and places to go and see, and I’d mostly always take their advice and plan my route accordingly. As for accommodation, I wild camped a lot of the time, fnding a feld, wooded area – or a desert in Iran! – to pitch my tent and sleep for the night.

Sometimes, I’d ask a local if I can pitch in their garden, or if they know somewhere safe, and this often lead to some amazing encounters, even invites to stay inside their home instead. People in general are incredibly friendly and willing to help.

I also made use of sites like Couchsurfng – exactly what it sounds like – and Warmshowers, which is similar but geared more towards cycle tourists. I think it's an incredible way to experience a city by crashing in a local's place rather than shacking up in a hotel

WHICH COUNTRIES DID YOU COVER?

In order: Ireland, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, and now the UAE.

WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE?

None really, in fact it's amazing how smoothly the whole journey went compared to all the worries I had initially like equipment failure, falling ill, or issues with people – none of which occurred. The worst that happened was getting two flat tyres.

That said, I did have some trouble with dogs in Romania where I was chased every single day. One time I was even charged by a pack of eight dogs; with no idea what to do and really scared, I charged at them screaming and flailing my arms about which thankfully ran them off.

ANY PARTICULAR MOMENTS WHICH STOOD OUT TO YOU?

It’s diffcult to pinpoint one moment – the most amazing thing about the trip is the people I met along the way – everyone was kind, friendly, and willing to help if possible. For instance when I had grouped up with two Bulgarian cyclists during one leg of the trip, we were – along with two other hitchhikers – invited into the home of a poor mother and daughter to stay the night. They offered us all they could in spite of their own struggle for necessities, and that kindness had a huge impact on all of us.

There is also the time when I'd bought pepper spray in Istanbul as a means of protection from dogs after my terrifying time in Romania – to be used as a last resort. A couple days later, my Bulgarian friends and I were getting chased by three angry dogs. I had had more than enough of angry dogs at this stage, so I took out the spray, pointed it at the dogs and pressed on the nozzle.

The wind though was so strong at our backs, all it did was blow the spray into our own eyes and mouth – we coughed and laughed hysterically as the dogs eventually gave up, and we rode away with tears in our eyes and pepper spray in the back of our noses and throats; that's the frst and last time I used the spray.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS TRIP IN FIVE WORDS?

Inspiring, eye-opening, fulflling, enriching, and enlightening.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU NOW?

I’m looking for work, either here in the UAE, or in Australia. I want to start a career either in golf, or the health and ftness industry – maybe even combine the two.

I'll defnitely be embarking on more adventures in the future as I'm not one to pass on an opportunity to try something new, especially as I now believe that there is nothing that I, or anybody else, cannot do; it just takes time and dedication.
 
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